Like a good detective, she managed to slip in without us realizing. The Australian hit series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries starring Essie Davis, based on the books by Kerry Greenwood were, for a time, only available in North America on the small UK-centric streaming service Acorn and select PBS stations. But once Netflix picked it up, many more viewers have become fans of the charming, rich and totally stylish lady detective of 1920s Melbourne.
While the plots are decent, and the simmering romance between Miss Phryne Fisher and Detective Jack Robinson make for enjoyable television, most of us, let’s be honest, are watching (and re-watching) for the incredible outfits by costume designer Marion Boyce.
In fact, the costumes are so popular that they’re on display in Australia; beginning as part of Melbourne’s Festival of Phryne back in May, they’re now touring the country.
There’s an absolutely brilliant interview with Boyce in Vanity Fair, discussing the many ways she’s had to adapt the costuming to accommodate the show (more pants than would have normally been worn, due to the very physical stunts, but no modern fabrics; a handbag that allowed easy access to Phryne’s gun), and why they couldn’t use actual vintage pieces.
Adapting 1920s fashion to modern tastes is actually just as difficult. While I predict that Miss Fisher is on the cusp of a Mad Men-like reverence when it comes to the styling (I fully expect to see themed displays in stores once the show gains even more popularity), many of the styles of the era just aren’t available today, especially in North America (in Europe where the electro swing movement has been strong for a few years, the style is much more prevalent). With a little bit of searching, however, it is possible to find Phryne-inspired clothing and accessories, even for a more alternative-minded fashionista.
I’ve gone for new pieces here, as good 1920s vintage is rare and expensive and the fit can be a bit wonky. By all means, go for vintage if it’s available to you.
The beaded party dress was a staple of 1920s culture. They ranged in levels of demureness, from fully covered with sleeves to low cut and completely backless. This one is in between and translates well to 2015. Found at ModCloth where there are a good dozen or so other beaded dresses and gowns.
Phryne is known for her famous emeralds, but she’s got her fair share of diamonds as well. These art deco-style hairpins from Pretty Baby Bridal add a touch of glitz to a stylish bob haircut.
This beaded headpiece from Batcakes Couture is typical of 1920s evening glamour. While we tend to see far more elaborate pieces in movies, with strands of dangling beads, this is typically what most women would have worn for evening.
Until the late 1920s, early 1930s, a handbag really was a small, mostly unstructured fabric bag than hung by a strap from the hand. This one by Bernard and Miss Mousie is made in the traditional style.
Oh sweet mercy, the coat. This was actually the most difficult item to track down and it’s not at all authentic in its cut. Even finding a coat that was floor length was a massive endeavor in this current trend of awful puffy parkas. But for me, Miss Fisher is not about the beaded gowns, but the glorious coats that Boyce creates for the show. Until the rest of the world goes crazy for Phryne, fans of her look are going to have trouble finding a good 1920s-style coat. This hooded, full-length faux fur is from Nordstrom.
Easier to find is a good faux fur collar to wear with a current coat. Boyce puts Phryne in fur collars whenever she can manage it, and from personal experience, a removable collar like the one above from Hudson’s Bay makes for so much variety in the wardrobe.
Shoes are also a difficult wardrobe element to get right. In the 1920s, heels were not particularly high, tending to sport more of a Louis heel. These t-strap Mary Janes from ModCloth are pretty close and would have been worn for day or evening.
I’ve included these Fluevog shoes because they typify the two-tone spectator pumps that became popular in the 1920s, although most would have been black and white or cream back then.
The other thing I watch for is Phryne’s hats. Boyce uses lots of vintage items when creating these and they’re always fabulous. A proper hat is something you don’t see very often on a lady these days, outside of events like weddings, but in Phryne’s time, they were worn everywhere – something I’d love to see a resurgence of, both because I adore wearing a nice hat, and because knitted beanies are just so awful. This gorgeous cloche from Hats in the Belfry.
There’s no reason plus size women can’t also work a 1920s look. This sheer beaded top from Addition-Elle evokes the era quite nicely.
One of Phryne’s best coats is a floor-length black velvet coat lined in red silk. While not exact, this velvet jacket from The Pyramid Collection will do in a pinch.
While Phryne often wears white trousers, paired with a white blouse, black is, by far, a more practical choice. Boyce puts the character in trousers far more often than would have been the norm in the 20s, especially in conservative Melbourne, and in one episode Phryne shocks a fashion designer by revealing that she not only wears trousers… but ones that are “off the rack”. Find these on a rack at Nordstrom.
Phryne’s many liaisons mean we see a lot of her “at-home” wear, including an array of beautiful kimonos. Possibly considered politically incorrect for a Caucasian woman to wear now, there was a fascination with “Orientalism” in the 1920s that definitely crossed over into the style of the era. This is an authentic vintage piece from the 1970s, by Yumme Yakko Japan, because I couldn’t find a modern version that wasn’t tacky-looking.
And finally, you find things in the oddest places… this open back, lace-trimmed short and cami set is very 1920s in its styling (click through and check the back detail). Found at ASOS.
This article originally appeared on Still Weird Zine.